Santo Niño de Cebú

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For other meanings, see Santo Niño (disambiguation).
Santo Niño de Cebú
Holy Child of Cebú
Balaang Bata sa Sugbo
The original image enshrined at the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño de Cebú.
Location Cebu, Philippines
Date 21 April 1521
Witness Ferdinand Magellan
Antonio Pigafetta
Rajah Humabon
Type Wooden statue
Holy See approval Pope Innocent XIII
Pope Paul VI
Pope John Paul II
Shrine Basílica Minore del Santo Niño
Attributes Crown, sceptre, orb, fair skin, bordeaux mantle

The Santo Niño de Cebú (Cebuano: Balaang Bata sa Sugbo, Filipino: Batang Banal ng Cebu, Spanish: Santo Niño de Cebú) is a Roman Catholic title of Jesus Christ associated with a religious vested statue of the infant Child Jesus venerated by many Filipino Catholics who believe it to be miraculous. It is the oldest religious Christian image in the Philippines, and was originally given in 1521 as a baptismal gift by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan via Antonio Pigafetta, who physically handed it to Lady Humamay, the chief consort of Rajah Humabon, along with a statue of the Virgin Mary and the bust of the Ecce Homo.

The image merited a Papal recognition on 28 April 1965 when Pope Paul VI issued the Papal bull Uonabula Religionis for the Canonical Coronation and Pontifical High Mass via the papal legate to the Philippines, Cardinal Ildebrando Antoniutti who concelebrated its 400th centennial anniversary. [1][2][3]

The image measures approximately twelve inches tall, and is believed to be originally made in Flanders, Belgium. The statue is clothed in valuable textiles, and bears an imperial regalia that includes a gold crown, globus cruciger, and various sceptres mostly donated from devotees in the Philippines and abroad.

The Santo Niño image is replicated in many homes and business establishments, with different titles reinterpreted in various areas of the country. The Holy Child's feast is liturgically celebrated every third Sunday of January, during which devotees carry a portable Santo Niño image onto the street fiesta dancing celebrations. The image is one of the most beloved and recognizable cultural icons in the Philippines, found in both religious and secular areas. It is permanently encased within bulletproof glass in a chapel at the Basílica Menor del Santo Niño.


The image of the Santo Niño is kept in the Santo Nino Chapel of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu. It is considered the oldest religious relic in the Philippines.[4]

In April 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, in the service of Charles V of Spain, arrived in Cebu during his voyage to find a westward route to the Indies.[5] He persuaded Rajah Humabon and his chief wife Humaway, to pledge their allegiance to Spain. They were later baptised into the Catholic faith, taking the Christian names Carlos (after Charles V) and Juana (after Joanna of Castile, his mother).

According to Antonio Pigafetta, Italian chronicler to the Spanish expedition, Ferdinand Magellan handed Pigafetta the image to be given to the Rajah's wife right after the baptismal rite officiated by Padre Pedro Valderrama.[5] It was Pigafetta himself who personally presented the Santo Niño to the newly baptised Queen Juana as a symbol of their new alliance, her newly baptized husband King Carlos, Magellan presented the bust of "Ecce Homo", or the depiction of Christ before Pontius Pilate. He also presented an image of the Virgin Mary to the natives who were baptised after their rulers. Magellan died on 27 April 1521 in the Battle of Mactan. Legends say that after initial efforts by the natives to destroy it, the image was venerated as the animist creator deity Bathala.[citation needed] Many historians consider the facial structure of the statue made from Belgium, where Infant Jesus of Prague statues were also common.

44 years after Magellan's soldiers left, the next Spanish expedition arrived on April 27, 1565, led by Miguel López de Legazpi. He found the natives hostile, fearing retribution for Magellan's death, and the village caught fire in the ensuing conflict. The next day, the Spanish mariner Juan Camus found the image of the Santo Niño in a pine box amidst the ruins of a burnt house.[4] The image, carved from wood and coated with paint, stood 30 centimetres tall, and wore a loose velvet garment, a gilded neck chain and a red woolen hood. A golden globus cruciger or orb was in the left hand, with the right hand slightly raised in benediction. Camus presented the image to Miguel López de Legazpi and the Augustinian priests; the natives refused to associate it with the gift of Magellan, claiming it had existed there since ancient times. Writer Dr. Resil Mojares wrote that the natives did so for fear that the Spaniards would demand it back. The natives’ version of the origin of the Santo Niño is in the Agipo (stump or driftwood) legend, which states that the statue was caught by a fisherman who chose to get rid of it, only to have it returned with a plentiful harvest.

The statue was later taken out for procession, afterwards which Legazpi then ordered the creation of the Confraternity of the Santo Niño de Cebú, appointing Father Andrés de Urdaneta as head superior. Legazpi instituted a fiesta to commemorate the finding of the image, and the original celebration still survives.

The Minor Basilica of Santo Niño (Spanish: Basílica Minore del Santo Niño) was built on the spot where the image was found by Juan Camus. The church was originally made out of bamboo and mangrove palm and claims to be the oldest parish in the Philippines. Pope Paul VI elevated its rank as Minor Basilica on its 400th year anniversary.


Devotees flock to the Basílica Minore del Santo Niño during the novena masses.

The feast, locally known as Fiesta Señor, starts on the Thursday after the Solemnity of the Epiphany. Each year, the celebration starts with a dawn procession wherein the replica image of Santo Niño de Cebu is brought down to the streets. It is then followed by the novena masses, which span nine days. On the last day of the novena, another dawn procession is held wherein the image of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Cebu is brought down from its shrine to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu. After the procession, it will stay for a while in the Basilica. Then, the images of Santo Niño de Cebu and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Cebu are brought to the National Shrine of St. Joseph in Mandaue City to reunite the church's namesake, forming the Holy Family. This transfer, which is common in fiestas throughout the country, is called Traslación.

On the morning of the vesperas ("eve", i.e., the day before) of the feast, the images of Santo Niño de Cebu and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Cebu are brought back to Cebu City through a fluvial procession, and upon reaching the Basilica, a reenactment of the first mass and baptism is held. It is then followed by a grand solemn foot procession on the afternoon of the same day. After the procession, a solemn Pontifical Mass is concelebrated by bishops and priests. It is then followed by the grand Sinulog Festival on the following Sunday. The feast officially ends on Friday after the Sinulog Festival by the traditional Hubo (Cebuano, "undress") rite in which the image of Santo Niño de Cebu is stripped of its grand ceremonial vestments, bathed in water laced with perfume and redressed in a simple robe. This rite is done in front of the public.

Pontifical approbation[edit]

The original feast date for the image was April 28, but in the 18th century, the following changes were made:

  • Pope Innocent XIII moved the date to avoid conflict with the Eastertide. In addition, he approved special liturgical texts for use during the local feast of the Santo Niño in the Philippines, set on the third Sunday of January, followed by the Sinulog festival.
  • Pope Paul VI issued a Canonical Coronation for the image on 28 April 1965 by the Papal bull "Uonabula Religionis" via his Papal legate. Through the Papal bull "Ut Clarificetur", the same Pontiff raised the sanctuary a Minor Basilica in 2 May 1965.
  • Pope John Paul II gave his papal endorsement for the image in his Mass for Families in 19 February 1981.[6]

Military Honours[edit]

During the Spanish colonial era, the Santo Niño was given the high military rank of Captain-General, with the full title of "Celentísimo Capitán General de las Esfuerzas Españolas en Filipinas" (The Most Esteemed Captain-General of the Spanish Forces in the Philippines).[7] For this reason, the statue is vested in a red cape and sash, symbolising the rank of a general, and military boots.[8]

The image was later honoured by the Philippine Navy with the title "Lord Admiral of the Seas" during the 446th anniversary of the image's Kaplag ("finding" or "rediscovery") in 2011.[9] This was done in acknowledgment of Christ's "lordship over seafarers, mariners and the marine ecology." The image was taken aboard the naval ship General Emilio Aguinaldo 140 for a fluvial parade, marking the first time its own naval ensign bearing its coat-of-arms was flown by a Philippine naval vessel. The honour was a joint effort of the Naval Forces Central, Philippine Coast Guard-Cebu District, Cebu Ports Authority, Philippine National Police Maritime Group, among others.[10]

Infant Jesus of Mechelen[edit]

A discovery of a similar Child Jesus known as the Infant Jesus of Mechelen is now currently housed in the Louvre Museum. The statue was originally acquired in September 2009 from a private art collector.[11] The word Mechlin is thought to have originated in Mechelen, now a Dutch-speaking city in Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium famed for its early religious Catholic artwork. Both the Mechlin statues and the Santo Niño de Cebu are approximately the same height at approximately twelve inches tall, while having similar characteristics such as the standing pose, naked body, hand blessing gesture and golden globes. More significantly, the faces are almost exactly similar to one another with the following exceptions:

  • In published photographs, the Mechelen statue looks frontal and towards in a direct line, while the Cebu statue looks in a downward direction to the devotee although this may be due to the angle of the camera when the photographs were shot.
  • The Cebu statue's fingers lean to the left, while that of the Mechelen statue points to the right. The original wooden fingers however point upwards when the golden glove is removed.
  • The Mechelen statue's hair is sculpted all the way to the knape or close to the neckline, while the Cebu statue looks like it is only up to the earlobes although this might again be due to the angle of the camera when the photographs were shot.

The Mechelen statue is currently housed in the Louvre Museum, in Paris, France. It is displayed naked, without any regalia, pedestal, accessories or any jeweled vestments. Several pious American Catholics from Texas and New York petitioned the museum in 2012 to purchase the Mechelen statue and release it from the custody of Louvre Endowment Fund but is seemingly not granted as of 2014.


Our Lady of Guadalupe of Cebu, Patroness of Cebu

The Santo Niño was popularly considered the official patron of Cebu, but the Church in the Philippines suppressed the notion and clarified that it is not the representation of a saint that intercedes to God but rather of God himself (specifically, Jesus Christ). Instead, the Archbishop of Cebu, Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, declared Our Lady of Guadalupe de Cebu the principal patroness of Cebu in 2002.

The devotion to the Holy Child of Cebu shares its worldwide veneration of the Infant Jesus of Prague. Colloquially referred to as Santo Niño, it is found in many residential homes, business establishments and public transportation. It is often found two traditional vestment colors, a red garment for the residential home, while a green garment for business locations. It is also often found with interchangeable clothing, whereas the devotee may choose to associate their own uniform to the statue, such as physicians, nurses, janitors or teachers. Another popular form of the statue is the Santo Niño de Atocha, but varies as standing pose rather than the seated pose of the Spanish version.

External links[edit]


  1. Sto. Nino de Cebu.